I was really excited about setting up the camp, but I soon realized that the tent had been designed by M.C. Escher. It required a degree in engineering to master. After my earnest attempts to ‘help’, I was dis-invited from the tent raising. Fortunately, George was in possession arcane tent raising skills. Soon the monstrosity was assembled and looked like an advertisement in one of those glossy camping magazines.
Once camp was set, we very carefully inspected everything, the sleeping bags, and each other. Everything was in working order. The next morning, George announced it was time for my first genuine outdoor experience. A nature hike. Into the International we climbed and drove off to the trail head. We saw beautiful wild flowers including a meadow filled with bluebells. Ever time a breeze stirred they nodded their heads. They looked like fairies dancing in the grass. Throughout the days hike, we saw wild creatures, a posse of squirrels ran through the trees along the trail chattering at us from above. George pointed out a hawk soaring on thermals high overhead and hoof prints he claimed were made by a moose. Needless to say I spent the day enthralled.
We would have stayed longer but the sign at the trailhead said the parking lot closed at dusk, so we hiked back to the truck. Once inside the beastly International, George produced some cold juice from the ice chest in the back. He also dug out a loaf of foil wrapped banana bread compliments of Sally, his mother. We fed each other bites as we sipped juice. The Stones sang about Wild Horses on the radio while we held hands on the bench seat. After a few minutes, I glanced at George and realized he had dozed off.
And that is when I saw spied them. Two juvenile bears ambled into the lot. They were pretty small and a bit thin. The bears did not look very scary at all. I did not mind, I was just so excited to see real wild bears. Perhaps I was sending out some sort of Ursa welcome vibe because the pair immediately headed towards the truck to nose around. How great is this, I thought, here I am with my love and two fantastic bears are outside the truck. I wanted to wake George but I also wanted to keep the bears to myself. Do not ask me why I did this next thing – maybe I had a flashback to Mildred and the feeding experience. What fun! I opened the tiny triangular window on my side and threw out some banana bread.
Bears don’t have very good vision but they do have terrific noses. Those cute bears rushed over to my side of the truck and gobbled up the goodies on the ground. I started to throw out more but before I could drop the piece in my hand one of the bears reared up on his hindlegs and ate it right off my fingertips.
His tongue was rough and it tickled as he licked me. He was even making the happy motorboat purr. I was thrilled. George let out a little snore, so I kept tossing out chunks of bread for a few more minutes. The bears started jostling each other going after the treats.
Then I ran out of bread…….I thought once I closed the window, the bears would snuffle around a bit and lose interest now that there was no more food. Surely they would leave. The bears had a different idea. They did not believe there was no more treat. One of the bears got up on the front grill while his buddy stood up pressing his paws against the passenger window. He was making a noise that didn’t sound one bit happy. At that point I was getting a close look at enormous bear claws. The other bear was pushing his way up on the hood. At this point I panicked.
I was pretty sure this meant trouble. I looked around the backseat for some repellant. Obviously George was negligent and not quite prepared for everything. Under the dash I discovered an air horn, the kind that comes in a can. Yay, I’m saved! I will just give a little toot out the window and scare these critters off. I opened the window just enough to get the top of the air horn outside but not enough to allow bear claws in and I depressed the top and tooted.
Did you know when you set off an air horn inside a vehicle it is much louder than if you set it off outside? What I mean to say is that it was really loud. The situation was not helped by the fact that I was doing my own imitation of an air horn. George jerked awake shouting a blue blazes.
George whipped his head looking incredulously at me, then the retreating bears. He took in the air horn clutched in my hand, then the empty crumpled aluminum foil wrapper with bread crumbs in it. George gave me a hard look as he asked whether I had fed the bears.
You would think I had learned my lesson, right? But no, Camp Prisoney Land is a bit like being in that truck. Only this time instead of bears, its other inmates coming by my cell. They are looking for a cup of coffee, a sugar packet, or a ramen soup. At first this seems harmless, giving someone what they ‘need’. But like the bears, these women are always looking for more, never believing there isn’t more to be had. They are foraging every day to fill a craving, going to the den for a nap, then returning for more.
At least George and I were able to leave the bears behind. In Camp Prisoney Land, I am trapped. My world is full of bears. I have thought of posting a sign ‘No bears fed here’ in my dorm. I don’t think anyone would pay attention any more than I did to the Do no feed the bears sign all those years ago.
Catherine LaFleur DOC #J14175
Homestead Correctional Institution
19000 S.W. 377th Street, Suite 200
Florida City, Florida 33034
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